Rachel

Rachel

Rachel

Rachel’s in town though she swore never to return.

It helps that Michael Brandon, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, has firmly got her back and is a one hundred percent committed to help her discard past baggage.

Then why is Rachel suddenly hankering for Rock Star Luke Brandon’s attention when he apparently does not even want to remember her?

What happens if you are The Rock and beloved of millions of fans across the globe? Living with a three ring media circus can you protect the woman you love from public scrutiny? And how do you deal with the hurt when the person you love rejects your heart?

Controlled as she is, by fear and guilt, Rachel has no business kissing Luke.

Besides why is Luke inciting her to rediscover herself? Will it really help to come to terms with her past and move ahead victor and not victim of circumstances?

Will Rachel destroy Luke or learn that love conquers all and never, ever quits.

 

Rachel

Chapter 1

The closest historical equivalent was when the chosen prince in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ took on those hundred forests or whatever their number was. Numbers were never of consequence. The important thing was obstacles vanished from his path when he was on the side of the right.

‘Right is Might,’ I recalled the slogan painted on the library wall of my high school.

 

An incongruous Men on the Left for Women are always Right flashed in my brain. Drat I had to stop memorizing graffiti scrawled on bathroom walls!

And important note to self– stop joking at own expense.

 

I was right to come home. Time had flown like water under the proverbial bridge. I was a different person. I had a point to prove to myself. That I was whole; I was no longer a victim who counted her years in before and after.

 

“Right!” Michael shut the car door he was holding open for me with a definite click. He checked the cuff of his black jacket before offering me his arm.

“Shall we?”

 

At six feet two, blonde with crystalline blue eyes Michael was the sexiest quarterback in the history of the NFL. But then I was biased.

Michael played for the Dallas Cowboys. His brooding intensity, the charismatic Apollo looks and the devil may care demeanor had been my undoing years ago.

It was just hard luck my feelings were not reciprocated. But even if he could not love me; Michael was another who staunchly had my back.

 

With my arm tucked firmly in his, Michael walked about the room introducing me to all his acquaintances, renewing old friendships.

My bestie Madison Craig née Graham caught my eye from the opposite corner of the room where she stood talking to her bestie Blue Avery.

I winked.

Madison’s eyes widened with surprise and she grinned back with evident delight.

“- and here’s another school friend of ours Drew Carpenter.”

My arch enemy was a more correct description. And how she had changed!

Drew was beautiful way back in High School but now she looked nothing short of ravishing.

We air kissed each other’s cheeks.

“Long time no see stranger,” Drew drawled in her husky voice.

I nodded. She was acting true to form but the likes of Drew Carpenter did not have the power to put me down.

Your voice is the same but, I believe I am meeting those nose and lips for the first time: I was definitely not blurting the catty response that popped in my head.

Uncanny how people you dislike make you revert to your childish ways.

I liked to think I matured over the years. And developed an arsenal of people skills.

 

“Hey,” Madison turned me about and engulfed me in a warm hug. She was just as I remembered. Nothing fake about Madison or Blue for that matter.

I hugged Blue after Madison had assured herself I was in the pink.

Blue’s return hug was awkward.

Damn! Was she never getting over the fact that she had surprised Michael and me in bed? That was another humiliating episode I wish I could turn the clock back on. If wishes were horses

 

“How about I get us all something to drink?” Michael offered looking at no one in particular.

“I’ll help,” Madison volunteered unaware of deep currents eddying below surface. After they had taken our drink order Madison and Michael headed towards the bar.

So there we were. Blue and I trying to make stilted conversation.

 

“Lovely décor.” I observed waving a hand airily about.

“I love those pink candles in glasses on the stairways with red rose petals scattered around them.” Blue agreed.

Valentine’s Day theme dominated with heart shape cutouts painted in red glitter. Clusters of red and white balloons dominated the dance floor. Wine glasses were upended on round tables. Atop each wine glass a burning tea light was placed.

“Let’s sit,” Blue motioned towards a table.

I nodded with alacrity. “Lead on.”

“So when did you um arrive?” Blue asked choosing words with care. I noted she avoided my eyes.

It was completely uncharacteristic of her.

In my previous dealings I had found her more understanding of human frailties. Maybe I had crossed the limits of depravity in her estimation.

Yet Blue was no prude. So what was the matter?

 

“I drove down from Austin almost a week ago.” I kept my tone light, unaffected. Maybe I had these antennae quivering because I was embarrassed; reading portents and omens where none existed.

“Will you be staying or you are just passing through?”

It was a fair question. “I’ll stay for a while. My post-doctoral guide wants me to take this grant I am being offered but till I make up my mind about what I want to do next, I am here.”

A buzz went through the room attracting Blue’s attention and my voice trailed off.

“Oh! Look there’s Luke-” Blue motioned towards the tall blonde man passing by. A gorgeous blonde with her platinum hair cut asymmetric to emphasize bold almost manly features accompanied him.

“That’s Julia Fischer. She’s his girl Friday.” Blue informed.

Smoky gray eyes and red painted lips were lit up with pleasure. The silver sheath Julia Fischer wore hugged her body emphasizing each graceful feminine curve and leaving a rounded shoulder bare.

“I thought she’s a supermodel,” I could not help blurting aloud to Blue’s amusement.

The couple was followed by two bodyguards.

 

Suddenly the atmosphere in the country club was electric. Women stood taller and men pulled their stomachs in.

I had seen Luke in countless music videos making an entrance sometimes by just walking onstage, sometimes vaulting onstage with pyrotechnics in the background, and even by ripping apart his shirt. And every time the crowds went ballistic.

He had sold like a million albums already and was the hottest real estate in music industry. King of Rock, was what his fans called him. He had won Grammys and Oscars by bucket loads. Probably the most complete entertainer in the mold of Michael Jackson. Luke was a music icon; a true legend.

 

Luke and Michael were first cousins their fathers being brothers.

Luke, elder to Michael by four years, was a significant part of my life growing up. I had seen music grow from a hobby to passion and then to obsession with him. When Luke dropped out of school and went to LA to pursue his lifetime dream I was among those who feared him lost forever. The rebel with piercing intense blue eyes and edgy rock anthems however triumphed over all his naysayers.

Tabloid articles recounting struggles to achieve superstardom left me with a begrudging admiration for him.

Begrudging because growing up he was the guy who pulled my pigtails.

He beheaded my favorite doll and called me tattletale when I complained to his mother Stephanie.

 

I looked at Blue who kept Luke in her sights as he worked the room suave, smooth.

“It’s all right by me if you want to go say hello.” I offered.

Blue looked at me surprised. Don’t you want to come along?”

I looked at the crowds milling about Luke and shook my head.

Blue rose from her chair and headed in Luke’s direction. Blue’s was a heart shaped face. With her honey blonde hair and blue eyes, she looked as if her last name was Brandon too. But Blue was actually the daughter of Michael’s housekeeper Mrs. Ruth Avery.

Nobody could have guessed her humble beginnings from either Blue’s clothes or her shoes. Blue looked every inch the successful pediatrician she was dressed in a black frock with strap sleeves. The ruffled hem hit mid-thigh making her legs appear longer than they were. The black stilettoes added more stature.

Blue looked impeccable.

 

“Where’s Blue?” Michael asked thumping her drink on the table while Madison handed me mine with a slight roll of her eyes that was meant for my eyes only.

“She wanted to say hello to Luke,” I pointed with a nod of my head towards Luke and his entourage.

If looks could kill Luke would have crashed down like a felled tree instead of hugging Blue and kissing her cheek.

Madison hit Michael on the arm. “Stop glowering. They are just friends meeting after a long time.”

“No Rachel and Luke are friends meeting after a long time,” Michael growled. “But do you see-”

And that was when I saw. I saw it all.

 

“Excuse me, I’ll be right back.”

I told them and walked up to where Luke was holding court before I lost my nerve. I avoided Blue’s gaze as I passed her by.

I had been blind and God alone knew the price these two idiots who called themselves my friends had to pay.

I stepped up smartly and tapped Luke on his shoulder.

No the heavens did not fall. No lightning death bolts surged and the earth beneath my feet did not shake.

But his bodyguards dressed all in black standing discreetly by the buffet table froze to attention.

One wrong move…, their body language seemed to suggest.

The Rock as the rock world knew him stiffened then turned.
Yes?”

If chilled had a sound it was his hostile tone finding himself accosted by a stranger.

Uh-oh,” I thought. Arctic blue eyes skimmed taking me in his sights. I knew how I looked but I was curious to know what he made of me.

From the tightly pinned bun at the nape of my neck to the navy pant suit his gaze traveled and lingered on sensible black pumps with two inch heels.

 

I kept my eyes fixed on his face. He wore his short brown blonde hair in a messy style as if he had run impatient fingers through to comb it. The frowning forehead, thick brows, clear blue eyes with dark irises, regular nose that sort of flattened at the top (certainly not his best feature) to a wide mouth with chiseled lips that hinted at his sensual nature. He smoldered oozing sex.

It was familiar not just from memory but the countless times I had seen that dark sultry look on billboards selling everything from jeans to perfumes.

He looked directly in my hazel eyes and his obdurate jaw settled stern.

It was not a look that invited confidences. It was a repressive look that put me in my place in the social hierarchy without a word being spoken.

He turned and crooked a finger.

 

Julia, his girl Friday materialized at my side. She smiled at me warmly.

“How may I help you?” She asked.

I felt inadequate.

Luke presented me his back, clearly dismissive.

 

I had not expected a fawning reception. But he had not even recognized me.

Shouldn’t have overreached, my insidious inner voice spoke with the smugness of one who is always right in retrospect.

I would have loved to ask that moronic voice why it suggested it would be a good idea to drink myself under the table to impress Michael, to agree to have sex with him in High School when I was not ready for that and neither evidently was Michael.

Great! Now I felt a bigger idiot standing dumbstruck in front of Julia.

“If you will please step this way,” the elegant Julia clasped my elbow in a firm hold, her voice cultured, polite and musical with a lilting quality to it.

 

My self-confidence crashed.

I allowed myself to be towed ignominious. The svelte strawberry blonde who took Luke’s arm watched me covertly with a mocking smile in her blue eyes.

Wow! I had been humbled before Drew! What had that proprietorial hold on Luke’s arm signified? Was Luke dating Drew? Eew!

 

“Julia where are you taking Rachel?” Michael’s masculine drawl pierced the fog around me. If sensual had a sound this was it.

Julia stopped short. Her surprised gaze darted from Michael at me. She recollected her poise. “Hi Michael, um why don’t you introduce me to Rachel?”

“Rachel Turnbull, Julia Sharpe. Julia, Rachel,” Michael parroted and Julia grinned.

“So Rachel Turnbull what did you want to tell The Rock?” Julia asked with a smiling inflection to her tone. “Are you a fan?”

Michael stared at the duffer, namely, me.

“I-I just wanted to say h-hello.” I hated myself for the stammer. I hated myself for a million other vulnerabilities but I hated most sounding so close to tears.

As if tears ever resolved anything, like my father wisely pointed out.

 

“Let’s by all means go say hello.” Michael reached for my hand. Julia let go. Drawing my hand through the crook of his arm he pulled me to his side.

Conversely, now I didn’t. I set a social goal for myself and failed. I hardly needed my nose rubbed in the dirt.

“I-I don’t want to,” I baulked speaking in a whisper.

Michael heard me just fine. “Why?”

“He’s talking to Drew Carpenter,” I muttered sulkily. If that sounded cowardly so be it.

Michael quirked an eyebrow. They trained quarterbacks to mow down opposition not buckle under it. “You can take down all your enemies in one go Killer!”

The last thing I needed to be reminded of was Luke’s childhood nickname for me.

 

Michael tapped Luke on the shoulder. Luke stiffened.

After a momentary pause he turned and quirked a formidable brow taking in the sight of his cousin with me.

“Luke you remember Rachel Turnbull? Rach was trying to say hello before your Ever Faithful headed her off.”

Is that right?” Luke asked.

 

There was a nasty inflection in his husky tones and I wondered.

Had he really not recognized me?

My eyes narrowed. Luke’s sneering voice seemed to trickle through setting my spine up. My stomach clenched and my hands balled into tight fists.

I was too good for the likes of Luke Brandon and his ilk.

If he could pretend so could I.

Why had I gone up to him in the first place, I could not understand? What had I expected to see in his blue eyes?

In the eyes of the world I was damaged goods. How much more scar tissue did I need to build up to develop that thick skin which kept eluding me?

 

Chapter 2

There was a resounding crash.

Wood shelves collapsed folding about me perched precariously on an aluminum step ladder. I had a surreal experience as if shooting live for an Indiana Jones movie. Jaundiced yellow dust that was settling undisturbed for years seemed to expand in billowing clouds over the Records room.

 

Registers flew spewing out sheets of paper; volumes of data I laboriously catalogued. I designed this infallible system wherein anyone could access the oldest files archived within matter of minutes and I kid you not it was a herculean task that stymied all my predecessors.

 

The ensuing silence was almost anti-climactic. I gazed about me bewildered akin to a survivor of some massive shipwreck.

What the hell just happened? I thought.

 

Not so my nemesis. Standing slender and tall on six-inch-high stilettoes with the inherent grace of her namesake Secretary bird she pushed open the door.

“There she is,” I heard her announce in the clinical detached tones of a forensic pathologist who having seen it all was wearied in the soul.

 

Crouching hunched over my narrow perch I peered curious.

Who was she talking to?

Dad’s eyes hit me with a sharp glare then as if compelled by gravity they took a downward trail.

Uh-oh!

Looking at the debris scattered about his jaw squared. I saw his Adam’s apple bob.

My own throat worked convulsively copying him.

 

“At-CHOO!” He sneezed suddenly and it was like the loud report of a gun.

Hastily he withdrew.

Rebecca Hunter looking my way with icy disdain followed in his wake.

I could understand Rebecca Hunter’s antipathy. Where girls like her worked hard for each promotion and subsequent pay raise, I had it easy being the boss’s only daughter.

I was going to inherit so what did it matter if I was a bungling idiot who demolished the entire Records Room in the span of a day’s work?

 

Rebecca was consp. by her a. in the reception area.

Seeing Dad, I sobered.

“Are you all right?” dad’s concern was only for me.

My dad looked weary in the golden sunlight. His eyes had dark circles under them. I saw fine lines radiating from the corners of his eyes.

It reminded he laughed often and loud when I was a child. Where had his laughter gone?

“Maybe we are working you too hard,” Dad misunderstood my somber expression. “After all you just arrived a week ago and have been working almost from the get go. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?”

 

Dad didn’t know.

I was a workaholic. I had no clue how to take a day off.

There was a reason I had graduated top of my class and gone on to do my post-doctoral research. I would still have been at the university working on the grant in collaboration with my guide but for the conversation I inadvertently eavesdropped on.

Dr. Brian Hodges thought I was ideal for research work namely because I had no life outside of work. It struck me as cruel because he was so right.

 

I parked my car in the downtown area. I loved the lively atmosphere. It was therapeutic to walk down the streets window shopping. The shops had tasteful window displays and I found myself lured into a bookstore.

Coming out of the shop I realized I was facing Lily’s salon.

The salon for some obscure reason reminded me of Luke Brandon. I walked in with almost an air of defiance.

 

Lily Durso, the stylist, almost burst into melodramatic tears when she saw the small tight bun I wore at the nape of my neck. She was Italian and from childhood I had seen her indulge in her famous tantrums of outrage.

Her own hair seemed to swell with life of its own as it floated about her shoulders well styled in clouds of black gloss.

“It is evil to tie up such beautiful hair,” she glared at me with her pixie like green eyes. I cringed guilty.

 

She went to work on my hair with gusto sniping at them with her scissors. “I do your mother’s hair,” she complained, “and it is the same with Elizabeth. Both of you,” she glared at me belligerent hands on her waist, “you need to be aware of your inner light and allow it to shine.”

 

I combed my hair and stepped back to check the effect. It was dark in the guest bedroom but outside the house the summer day was sweltering hot. I thought I looked cool in my shorts and the white cotton blouse.

 

I was still self-conscious of my perky breasts that had made an appearance that sixteenth year. I hoped a flesh colored bra and loose blouse would hide the new developments. I ran a hand down my butt. At least it looked the same.

“Rachel?” I heard Michael’s impatient voice call from outside the house.

Probably a fresh game of volleyball was starting. I reached for the scrunchie I had dropped on the dressing table to tie-

 

“Leave your hair alone,” the husky command in that honeyed male tone gave me pause. I turned startled.

Luke Brandon was standing at the guest bedroom door raking my body with his intense blue eyes.

He made me catch my breath.

Luke was a playmate when I was younger but over the years he inserted a distance between us. Every spare waking moment of his was devoted to his music. Now his best friends were his band mates who sported messy unkempt hairstyles and looked at girls funny.

 

Raaach,” Michael’s voice grew louder, impatient.

Luke stood in the doorway between Michael and I, arms folded across his chest. There was not enough gap I could squeeze through.

“I-I have to go,” My voice came out breathy, girly high-pitched.

“Tease him, make him want you, make him wait.”

My eyes widened. Color suffused my face. Surely Luke was not teaching me to seduce Michael!

“Michael’s not interested in me that way.”

He laughed a teasing kind of laugh, a knowing laugh that rattled. “If he has two eyes, is red blooded my dear; I assure you he is interested in exactly that way.”

 

I was not going to take relationship advice from a struggling loser who opted out of college. No matter how loud the girls screamed when Luke performed with his band at the local nightclub.

I resented the way he was undressing me with his adult eyes.

It set my back up that Luke guessed I had a crush on Michael Brandon.

 

Michael looked at me funny.

“What have you done to your hair?”

“Combed it. Why?”

Michael’s hand lifted as if of its own volition touching the silk of my hair gently almost reverent.

“You play on my team,” he ordered.

Lily snapped her fingers and I jumped out of my daydream.

“Look,” she ordered.

I looked awed at the girl in the mirror. An auburn haired girl with waves of glossy, glowing tresses cascading down her shoulders stared at me wide eyed.

Lily had cut my hair in layers then styled the ends in loose curls that draped over my shoulders lovingly.

“Good genes will tell. Even now,” she murmured, “Elizabeth has retained her best feature. She should use it to her advantage and not let that slut Rebecca-”

“What?” I gasped astounded.

Lily glowered. “Don’t you know that tramp Rebecca Hunter is trying her damnedest to break up your parents?”

 

I had not a clue. I saw my father and mother as a single unit. It never struck me that they could have marital problems. I never had cause to dwell on that aspect of their marriage before.

Was I responsible for this too?

I felt my head would burst.

 

Chapter 3

 

Mom was standing at the door bidding goodbye to women who worked with her on some committee or the other.

My mother worked on the board of many charitable institutions in the city and as far back as I could remember I saw her lend a helping hand to those less privileged.

Mom felt it selfish not to give back when we received in such abundance.

Her favorite quote was “Much is asked of them to whom much is given.”

 

Though I was an only child mom ensured I learnt how to share with other children. She would spend hours talking to me about the importance of gently using toys and clothes so they could be donated once I outgrew them.

I did not want to give my things to strangers specially my dolls but mom showed me the joy an orphan girl felt in receiving such a treasure and thereafter it became easier to let go.

 

She was an idealist. She was the real deal.

I knew we were not close as some of my friends were to their moms.

Blue shared this awesome relationship with her mom.

Madison’s mom was warm, nurturing.

Mine tried after my abortion to open up communication channels between us but by then I started erecting walls to keep people from stepping on my raw wounds.

Luke’s mom Stephanie and mine broke off their conversation to smile welcoming.

“Aren’t you home early?” Stephanie Brandon asked.

She was petite with blue gray eyes and blonde the same as her son. Luke had inherited his height, nose and chin from his father but his cheekbones and smile was all Stephanie.

“Dad told me to take the day off.” I kept my tone light returning her perfumed hug.

“Much as I would love to stay and gab with you I have to head home. Luke is throwing this party tonight and he wants me to be his hostess.”

 

I nodded my understanding.

“You are invited of course,” Luke’s mom told me. “Get your parents along so we old timers can keep each other company.”

“I don’t know Steph, Blake has to work odd hours,” mom spoke up a blush coloring her face. She wore a harried expression. Her eyes trained in Stephanie Brandon’s direction seemed almost pleading.

Lizzie,” Stephanie Brandon was mom’s closest friend and the only other person who called her Lizzie apart from my dad. “You need to socialize for Rachel’s sake. It’s not fair Rach be kept homebound because Blake’s putting in long hours at work.”

 

I could see Stephanie’s angle right away. Emotionally blackmail the parents to socialize. As ideas went it was not a bad idea.

“I think we will take a rain check,” mom glanced in my direction hoping I would second her.

“Oh no, we would love to attend. I am calling up dad right away and making sure he frees his schedule.” I assured Stephanie.

She grinned at me with evident delight having won herself an ally.

 

Dad was easy putty in my hands.

He never said no to me for anything. I was his little princess and my merest wish was his command.

Stephanie Brandon was right. I would use every little advantage I had to get my parents back together.

 

I wore a black velvet embroidered sequin corset dress with front lacing. Black jaunty half-boots completed my ensemble.

I spent half hour before the mirror tying and untying my hair. Finally, I tied it in the bun I was accustomed to.

 

Luke, his mom, dad and the effervescent Julia stood receiving guests at the ranch house. The old house I remembered was rebuilt in recent years into a palatial mansion. The landscaped gardens with a clever use of façade lighting made the first viewing quite spectacular.

 

Stephanie Brandon spotted us first. She touched her husband’s arm. Marshall Brandon was tall and well built. He enveloped me in a bear hug.

Growing up my parents and Luke’s were close friends but Marshall looked awkward shaking hands with dad that night. Usually they half hugged half embraced the way men interacted with their close friends.

Stephanie Brandon on the other hand behaved as if nothing had changed. I could see dad relax subtly after she released him from her perfumed embrace.

I kept a wide smile pasted on my face trying not to think of Luke standing somewhere in the room.

 

“Luke,” dad spoke his name and I stepped back hastily bumping into Julia.

“Sorry,” I smiled apologetic.

Julia grinned easily, with the warmth of an old friend though this had to be my second time meeting her. “Hi Rachel, so nice of you to have come.”

She said it so sincerely that one felt she meant it.

“Thanks,” I murmured knowing well I was there only because of Stephanie Brandon.

Julia motioned to a waiter and swept a champagne flute off the tray offering it to me.

I did not drink but took it out of politeness. The idea was to dump the glass when no one was watching.

 

“Lovely arrangements.” I was determined to converse and not act the shell shocked idiot she must recall from the previous evening.

“Thank you,” she smiled affable.

My fake smile was feeling stretched.

“Um I’ll see you around,” I motioned with the hand holding the glass turning away right into Luke Brandon.

The guy who did not know me from Eve. Right.

I carefully sidestepped.

 

Clutching the drink in hand I turned towards the hall where I could hear sounds of music coming from. I skirted the edge of the dance floor to the open doors leading out in the gardens.

Inside the house a festive atmosphere had been created with flowers. Outside it was all twinkling lights. Warm yellow and green lights twinkled draped over trees, a wooden bridge structure and even the dome of the gazebo.

I enjoyed dancing but I could hardly dance with strangers. It was still hard to make myself speak to someone I did not know.

I sat down on the white marble stairs leading to the gazebo and inhaled deep.

The night air was cool, crisp and invigorating.

Spreading manicured lawns dotted with people moving about made me feel remote but connected at the same time.

I started when I saw a man head my way. My heart began trip hammering.

I recognized Luke the instant he crossed the over bridge. There was nothing tentative about Luke’s manner. He was looking my way and the mocking smile twisting his sensual mouth was one that had been directed at me many times in the past.

 

Like the time I accidentally overheard Marshall telling Luke he was throwing away his life for a stupid obsession.

“Do you know how rare it is to be a success like MJ?” Marshall shouted. “Vegas is populated by men who thought they were the next big thing.

If you are looking at my wealth son and expecting a free lunch through life let me tell you- you are sadly mistaken. You quit college and you will not receive a single dime from me in this life.”

Marshall was a frustrated father trying to bulldoze through the wall Luke erected.

“With due respect I know what I want sir. I am dropping out of college.”

Marshall almost burst an artery when he saw how immutable Luke was. I saw Marshall stride out of his study never noticing me standing in the dark lobby.

Luke came out of the study and I forced my legs to move towards him.

“Luke-”

“I guess you overheard huh?” He read my concern for him in my eyes. We communicated well non-verbally. I forgot the gap that had been widening between us ever since he turned twenty.

“Please don-”

“Can you break up with Michael and date me?”

“Huh?” I gasped.

His mocking smile cut me up. Turning on his heels he walked away.

 

Since then I interpreted that mocking smile as a defense mechanism Luke perfected to keep arrows from piercing him where he was most vulnerable- his heart.

I knew I was not part of his circle of friends or privy to his dreams but I had believed I understood Luke’s motivations best. His music was as important to Luke as Michael was to me.

 

So I insisted we support Luke’s band and forced Michael to patronize the joint where Luke’s band had this gig. Michael was a people magnet. Where he went a herd of boys and girls followed in hero worship. But Michael was also shrewd in choosing the company he kept. He vetted people first before he let them into his inner circle. That choosiness made people compete for the privilege to be seen with him. Playing at Wiley’s, I think with the tips and everything, each band member of Luke’s had cleared close to a thousand dollars every week.

 

Sitting there watching Luke silently mock me I finally woke up to the realization it was personal vanity that skewed my perspective of Luke in my past. After he asked me that question I thought- I don’t know why I thought- but I thought him affected by my beauty and if that was not being presumptuous; I don’t know what was.

Though it shredded my dignity the previous night had taught me what I could have learnt only from gazing in Luke’s blank eyes.

“What are you doing here by yourself? Don’t you know it’s not safe? Are you- is that champagne?” Luke asked sharply.

 

I looked at the glass flute placed on the step by my side. Picking it up I drank in a gulp. It was when the liquid touched the back of my throat I realized what I had impetuously done.

Luke was scowling at me.

I forced myself to swallow. I had to remind myself I was a mature adult twenty-four years old and he was what- twenty-eight? Hardly old enough to act like my confounded keeper.

Defiant I emptied the flute in another gulp.

He was standing almost ten yards away yet he seemed to be towering over me, growing in inches with disapprobation.

I rose to stalk past huffily nose in the air.

 

Chapter 4

 

Madison and her husband Peter Craig accompanied by Blue and Michael arrived sometime when I was out admiring the garden. Peter Craig, a renowned golfer ranked no 2 in the world since winning the Master’s the previous year. Peter gave me a shy peck on the cheek. I genuinely liked him and felt at ease in his company. It was enchanting how he had eyes only for Madison.

 

“Let’s dance,” Peter suggested and Madison who had two left feet grimaced.

“Oh go on,” Blue pushed Madison to the floor with a laugh.

“Thanks. I owe you one,” Peter grinned at Blue catching up Madison in his arms.

“Care for a dance?” Michael asked me.

“No thanks,” I shook my head. “This dance is already promised.”

I tapped my dad on the shoulder, “care for a dance?”

Dad was surprised but pleased. “Sure.”

It was a foot tapping fast number that left us breathless and laughing. Another fast number followed in succession.

Mom and Stephanie were watching us laughing at our outrageous antics on the floor. I caught mom’s arm and tugged her to where dad was standing just as a waltz began. They moved a little clumsily together at first but the music and the mood created by the lights dimming over the dance floor soon had them moving with the grace and ease of old familiarity.

“May I have the pleasure?”

I turned.

Marshall, Luke’s father was asking me for a dance.

He had no problem recognizing me unlike his famous son.

Maybe it was the alcohol that created a warm buzz but I was feeling light and graceful. Maybe Marshall was an excellent dance partner. He twirled me out and about and when the music changed to a two-step we effortlessly moved into the tempo. I saw Michael on the dance floor with Stephanie and Madison was still dancing with Peter. Where was Blue?
I saw her standing aloof from the milling crowd. She looked lonely.

“We are cutting in,” Stephanie yelled in my ear. Marshall danced away with Stephanie and Michael smiled enfolding me in his arms without missing a beat.

I stumbled.

Michael escorted me off the floor.

“Michael, why don’t you dance with Blue?”

Blue gaped at me flummoxed like I had grown an extra pair of horns on my head.

“Please,” I tugged her drink out of her hand pushing her towards Michael.

She looked rather fetching in a sky blue gown. Cinderella at the ball, I thought.

I was rather pleased at my baby steps in playing cupid when Michael steered Blue through the crowd towards the dance floor.

“Turning out to be quite a matchmaker, I see,” Luke’s acerbic tones made me start.

It was like a flashback moment. In the past I would have thought it reassuring he was keeping an eye out for me.

Now I didn’t know what to make of his comment. I stepped back.

The mood I was in I should not have bumped into the drinks waiter. If I had not been so riled at Luke, it wouldn’t have mattered.

I picked up a balloon shaped glass with a quaint yellow umbrella. A round orange slice was artistically arranged on the rim of the glass and tiny flakes of salt clung to the rim. I took an experimental sip. It tasted of fruit juice and there was a subtler aftertaste but I had never drunk it before so did not know what it was.

Nor was there a friend I could ask. I did not count Drew as a friend, thank you very much. Michael was still on the dance floor dancing with Blue.

I sighed a deep, heartfelt sigh of relief.

Though it was personally devastating for me like the ending of a dream where the prince is about to kiss you and your mom wakes you up.

“Just what the hell do you think you are doing?” Luke hissed at me from between clenched teeth.

I saw no reason to talk to a stranger. I took a deliberate sip tuning him out by turning away.

“Luke,” his girl Friday had found him and she was towing no less a celebrity his way than Faye Worth, a supermodel who was the new face of Chanel.

I fortified myself with a substantial gulp.

I smirked as the gracious Faye giggled like a schoolgirl kissing Luke. She was easily the most bewitching woman in the room with those chestnut locks and her smoky gray eyes.

Luke’s blue eyes however were locked on mine as I tilted the glass to my lips and hit rock bottom. It was slightly confusing. I imagine they cheat with those glasses making them appear to be holding more volume than they actually do.

Like the canapés served as appetizers.

Luke motioned for the waiter to serve me hors de oeuvres’ but the caviar garnish was not to my taste. He had me confused with the hoity toity women orbiting him. I was simpler I liked to think and, unaffected.

I sent the waiter on his way then stopped a drinks waiter and picked another glass. Then I decided to put the entire length of the room between me and Luke’s dampening presence.

“Darling,” mom’s voice stopped me mid-way.

“Your dad and I are ready to leave. Do you want to accompany us?”

I was ready to go even before we had arrived.

“Something the matter Mrs. G?” Luke butted in our private conversation.

“Yes,” mom nervously wrung her hands looking apologetic. “I know dinner’s yet to be served but Blake and I are feeling bushed so if you don’t mind we would like to call it a day.”

“No problem.” Luke gave me a malicious narrow eyed look. “I want to thank you all for coming.” He was a gracious host bidding us all good bye.

Well he should not have set my back up.

“I’ll stay,” I decided spur of the minute. “Don’t worry I’ll call a taxi or maybe Michael can-”

“I’ll be glad to escort you home after dinner,” Luke offered silkily.

It was the wolf offering to drive Red Riding Hood to her grandma’s. I was not that gullible. Yet I could not suppress the shiver that trickled down my spine.

“If it’s no bother,” mom smiled gratefully at Luke.

“No trouble at all,” he assured mom and dad as they headed out the main door.

The minute they were out of sight Luke turned upon me his eyes targeting the drink in my hand.

Defiant, I put the glass to my mouth and drank it up my throat working busily.

He was watching me with a horrified dazed sort of arrested expression on his face.

I turned the glass upside down. “There all gone, see?”

I wiped the excess moisture off my lips with the back of my hand and let go of the glass stem.

Luke had sharp reflexes. He caught the glass midair.

A waiter moved in and Luke placed the empty glass on the tray.

I hitched up my gaping jaw slightly disappointed that the glass had not shattered. I particularly wanted to hear the musical sound of glass smashing against the cold stone floor and see the jagged sharp uneven pieces.

There is a wild beauty in destruction.

I realized standing there why the band members of a popular heavy metal band destroyed their instruments after a performance.

“I don’t know what’s got into you,” Luke reached out to clasp my wrist firmly.

His hot hands surged with power. Shocked my eyes locked at his knobby fingers wrapped about my arm. My skin looked pale and my wrist fragile by contrast.

I could not pull free of his hold. His eyes sparked with malevolent challenge as if he dared me to try.

“Last night you did not even know me,” I blurted out my hurt.

“I knew that’s what this is all about,” he smirked derisive. “Why? Did it bother you? Is that why you are in a snit?”

He made me sound like one of those vainglorious souls who insist on being the center of everyone’s universe.

Had I been this girl in the past?

I looked at him wounded and unable to pretend otherwise.

“And what weapon will you pull out of your arsenal next if this injured look does not work?” He husked in a rasping voice.

I gasped outraged. “Oh- You- I …”

“Very eloquent,” he was openly sarcastic. “So what do these idiots tell you- that you look fetching when you are angry?”

I shut my mouth on a sharp exhale with a definite click of my teeth grinding against each other.

I could not understand what had got into Luke. Why was he determined to give a double meaning to every word I spoke?

From the corner of my eye I saw Blue stride off the dance floor indignantly followed by a seething Michael.

Luke followed my line of vision.

Michael started when he saw Luke gripping my hand.

Instead of following Blue Michael headed my way.

I knew it was because Michael felt guilty. I was best situated to know Michael liked me but he could not love me and now I thought I knew why.

“Will you dance with me?” I asked Luke desperate.

I did not want to create misunderstandings between Michael and Blue a second time. Jealousy was a bitch.

“I knew it- you are playing cupid!” Luke declared triumphant.

The addlepated man was more keen to prove a damned hypothesis right.

I had a habit of a lifetime to kick off. I wanted Michael to understand unequivocally that I was good on my own. I did not need a shepherd.

I grabbed Luke’s jacket with the hand he held captive and placing the other on his shoulder I braced myself on my toes.

I don’t think he realized my intention till I smacked my lips against his.

Our noses butted and the pain jarred.

Luke’s hand grabbed at the bun I had twisted my hair in and pulled me back reflexive so I couldn’t pull the stunt again.

Though my eyes watered I glared at him venomous, unrepentant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *